Little Dorrit (TV series)

Little Dorrit is a 2008 British miniseries based on Charles Dickens’s serial novel of the same title, originally published between 1855 and 1857. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies and the episodes were directed by Adam Smith, Dearbhla Walsh, and Diarmuid Lawrence.

Little Dorrit
Cover of the BBC DVD release
GenrePeriod drama
Based onLittle Dorrit
by Charles Dickens
Written byAndrew Davies
Directed byAdam Smith (6 episodes)
Dearbhla Walsh (5 episodes)
Diarmuid Lawrence (3 episodes)
StarringClaire Foy
Matthew Macfadyen
Tom Courtenay
Judy Parfitt
Composer(s)John Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes14
Executive producer(s)Rebecca Eaton
Anne Pivcevic
Producer(s)Lisa Osborne
CinematographyLukas Strebel
Owen McPolin
Alan Almond
Editor(s)Nick Arthurs
Philip Kloss
David Head
Running time452 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
WGBH Boston
Original networkBBC One
Original release26 October 
11 December 2008
External links

The series was a joint production of the BBC and the American PBS member station WGBH Boston. It originally was broadcast by BBC One and BBC HD, beginning on 26 October 2008 with a 60-minute opening episode, followed by 12 half-hour episodes and a 60-minute finale. In the United States, it aired in five episodes as part of PBS's Masterpiece series between 29 March and 26 April 2009. In Australia, episodes were combined into seven-parts on ABC1 each Sunday at 8:30pm from 27 June 2010[1] and has since been repeated on UKTV.[2]

The series won seven Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries.


Since her birth, twenty one years prior in 1805, Amy Dorrit has lived in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt, where she cares for her father, William, who, having lived there for two whole decades, enjoys a position of privileged seniority. He is known as the Father of the Marshalsea. To help her family, Amy works as a seamstress for Mrs. Clennam, a cranky, cold, forbidding semi-invalid who lives in a crumbling home with her servants, the sinister Jeremiah Flintwinch and his bumbling wife, Affery.

Mr. Clennam is ill in China with his son, Arthur. His dying wish is that his son "Put it right" with his mother. He gives Arthur a pocket watch to deliver to Mrs. Clennam; Arthur has no idea what this means. He returns to England after 15 years and gives his mother the watch. She claims to not know what it means, but opens it and reads "Do not forget." Arthur is enamoured of the beautiful Minnie (Pet) Meagles, who favours ne'er-do-well aspiring artist Henry Gowan, much to the distress of her parents.

Arthur befriends Amy, but only as someone helping his mother. But Amy affection for Arthur grows into romance. John Chivery, who man's the prison gate with his father, watches in dismay. He loves Amy desperately, but in vain. Amy's brother, Tip, falls into debt and joins his father in prison. Arthur pays his debt anonymously. Amy rightly guesses that only Arthur could have paid the debt. Tip is ungrateful but Amy's love for Arthur grows.

Arthur, observing his mother's uncharacteristically benevolent attitude towards Amy, suspects his family may have been responsible for the Dorrits' misfortunes and imprisonment. He asks rent collector and amateur detective Mr. Pancks to investigate the situation.

John Chivery proposes to Amy, who gently declines. This upsets both fathers and threatens to affect Dorrit's favored position as the Father of the Marshalsea. Arthur, unaware of Amy's love, proposes to Pet, who regretfully tells him she is to marry Gowan. He meets inventor-engineer Daniel Doyce, and they become business partners.

An ex-convict, Rigaud, meets Flintwinch's twin brother, Ephraim, in a tavern. Ephraim has a box containing Mrs. Clennam's secret papers, which she had ordered Jeremiah to burn, but which he had given to Ephraim instead. Rigaud gets Ephraim drunk, murders him, and takes the box. He thus learns of the Clennam family secret.

Mr. Pancks has discovered William Dorrit is heir to a fortune. Dorrit leaves the Marshalsea as a very wealthy man but insists his family forget what he considers to be their shameful past and everyone who was a part of it. He snubs and insults Arthur in the process. He hires the stiff and pretentious Mrs. Hortensia General to educate his daughters and prepare them for their new position in society. They all depart on a Grand Tour of Europe.

William Dorrit is continually upset with Amy, who cannot adapt to the family's new lifestyle. Amy's sister Fanny is courted by, and accepts marriage to the step-son of a welthy banker named Mr. Merdle.

At the suggestion of Mr. Pancks, Arthur invests in a seemingly successful bank run by Mr. Merdle.

William Dorrit returns to England and meets Mr. Merdle and discreetly asks him for his advice as to the "prudent investment" of his capital. Mr. Merdle agrees to invest William Dorrit's fortune because he "could be considered one of the family now!" Mr. Dorrit is welcomed into some of London's finest homes but is tormented by his prison memories. He gradually begins to lose his grasp on sanity, and hastily returns to Italy to see his daughter Amy, where he dies in bed. Left alone, Amy returns to London, where she is welcomed in by her newly married sister Fanny.

Mr. Merdle ends his own life, his suicide note revealing that his successful investment bank is actually a Ponzi scheme, and he is a swindler who had ruined thousands of investors. Among them is Arthur, who is forced into the Marshalsea debtors' prison. John Chivery angrily reveals to Arthur that Amy loves him. Arthur then runs a high fever. He is nursed back to health by Amy who offers to pay his debts, but he refuses.

Rigaud returns to Mrs. Clennam and reveals what he knows from the stolen documents: her unloving attitude drove her husband to infidelity, which resulted in a son Arthur, whom Mrs. Clennam raised as her own, albeit without any motherly feeling for him. When Arthur's birth mother died, his grandfather bequeathed money to Amy. Rigaud demands £2,000 to keep silent, but Mrs. Clennam leaves her house for the first time in years, finds Amy, reveals the truth, and begs her forgiveness. During Mrs. Clennam's absence, her dilapidated house collapses, killing Rigaud. Returning to find her home a pile of rubble, Mrs. Clennam collapses and dies in the street.

The Dorrits learn their money had been invested with Mr. Merdle, and hence is all lost. Now that Amy is penniless, Arthur accepts her, and they again declare their mutual love. Daniel Doyce returns from Russia, where he made a fortune. He shares his wealth with Arthur. Arthur and Amy marry.



The series was filmed on location at Chenies Manor House, Luton Hoo, and Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire; Deal Castle in Kent; Hampton Court Palace in Surrey as the Marshalsea; and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Interiors were filmed in the Pinewood Studios.

Critical reception


In the United Kingdom the series was often compared to Davies' Bleak House three years earlier. One reviewer for The Daily Telegraph wrote that "Some of the acting has been a bit too hammy" and blamed falling viewing figures on "confusion over scheduling, starting as an hour long special and then breaking into half an hour episodes, like a Victorian East Enders";[3] another added that it "doesn't seem to have caught on in the same way as other recent costume dramas such as Cranford and Bleak House", both due to scheduling and also down since "it wasn't quite as good" as these two programmes, though also that "Most of the cast were as reliably terrific".[4] The Independent also praised the performances, especially Courtney, Macfadyen and Peake,[5] whilst another of its reviewers praised Davies' adaptation.[6] The Guardian also praised the acting and the adaptation, though with the caveat that "because it's Dickens, those top names can get away with a little bit more showing off and look-at-me acting than they would be able to in, say, Jane Austen".[7]


Brian Lowry of Variety observed, "Slow going at first and rushed near the end, it's nevertheless an absorbing piece of work, reminding us that there are certain things the Brits simply do better . . . Davies could have easily shed (or at least pared down) a few of [the] subplots without seriously diminishing the story's grandeur, and after the lengthy windup, the last hour races through tying up the assorted loose ends. Even so, there's so much gaudy talent on display here that those with an appetite for it won't be able to get enough, and Little Dorrit gives them everything they could want in a big, gloriously messy package."[8]

Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe felt the series "has so many virtues – indelible performances, stirring pathos, and an emotional and psychological heft unusual for Dickens – that you can forgive its one significant flaw . . . For all its feeling, Little Dorrit does not wrap up well, which is a no-no when it comes to Dickens. Indeed, a Dickens denouement needs to be neat . . . But the loose strings that Davies leaves dangling at the end of this script are frustrating. All the carefully built mystery implodes in the final act, as the importance of a number of characters . . . and the backstory itself are left murky in ways that Dickens made clear . . . It's hard to imagine how this happened in the course of such an otherwise mindful endeavor. And yet Little Dorrit is still rewarding, for the long journey, if not for the final stop."[9]

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times noted, "Not every character is exactly as described on paper; some don't stay around long enough to register and others who have earned our interest just disappear. And the story can be confusing at times. But all in all, this is a dynamic, addictive rendition of a complicated novel."[10]

Jonathan Storm of The Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "Andrew Davies, who made 2006's Bleak House one of the best TV shows of the year, crafts another superb script, with characters and incidents squeezing out the sides, just the thing to satisfy close observers, which anyone joining this maxi mini-series should be. Costumes, sets, and actors, a broad lot of those super-skilled, terrifically trained Brits, make for sumptuous viewing . . . You pretty much know what to expect when Masterpiece visits the 19th century. But Little Dorrit stands at the high end of a very lofty list of period-piece achievement. It's big entertainment."[11]

In her review in The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley said the series "is as rich at the margins as at the center with strange, and strangely believable, characters from almost all levels of society, rendered in quick, firm strokes,"[12] while David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "terrific entertainment . . . in some ways, perhaps even better than its source material."[13]

Awards and nominations

The serial won seven of its eleven nominations at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Directing for Dearbhla Walsh, and Outstanding Writing for Andrew Davies.

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Miniseries Won
Outstanding Directing Dearbhla Walsh Won
Outstanding Writing Andrew Davies Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor Andy Serkis Nominated
Tom Courtenay Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition John Lunn Nominated
Outstanding Casting Rachel Freck Won
Outstanding Cinematography Lukas Strebal Won
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie James Merifield, Paul Ghirardani and Deborah Wilson tied
Outstanding Costumes Barbara Kidd & Marion Weise Won
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Karen Hartley Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Production Design Nominated
Best Costume Design Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair Design Nominated
Best Original Television Music Nominated
Best Sound Fiction/Entertainment Nominated

See also


  1. "ABC1 Programming Airdate: Little Dorrit (episode one)". ABC Television Publicity. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  2. "UKTV Programme Synopsis: Little Dorrit". UKTV Online. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  3. "Little Dorrit is superb even if audiences are falling". The Daily Telegraph. London. 24 November 2008.
  4. Walton, James (11 December 2008). "Last night on television – Little Dorrit (BBC1)". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  5. Sutcliffe, Tom (27 October 2008). "The Weekend's Television: Little Dorrit, Sun, BBC1". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010.
  6. Eyre, Hermione (2 November 2008). "Television: Little Dorrit, BBC1". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009.
  7. Wollaston, Sam (27 October 2008). "The weekend's TV". The Guardian. London.
  8. Brian Lowry. "Little Dorrit". Variety. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  9. "Dickens meets 'Lost' in PBS's 'Little Dorrit' – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  10. "Review: 'Little Dorrit' on PBS". latimes. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  11. The Philadelphia Inquirer review
  12. "The New York Times". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  13. David Wiegand; Chronicle Staff Writer (28 March 2009). "TV review: Smart, well-played 'Little Dorrit'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
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